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Ex-Liverpool councillor taken to task for proposing rural school closures

07 Dec 2023 6 minute read
Conwy Council building in Colwyn Bay

A former Liverpool City councillor has been reminded to ‘consider the Welsh language’ after calling for rural schools closures to help a cash-strapped council avoid potential bankruptcy. 

Paul Luckock, who represents Pensarn Pentre Mawr, told a Conwy County Council finance scrutiny committee that it was an “absolute no brainer that we’ve got to tackle this issue”.

His proposal comes as it was revealed the authority was modelling for a council tax rise of up to 10% from April as it still faces a budget shortfall of £24.5million – even after it authorised the highest council tax rise (9.9%) in Wales last year. But his “repeated” suggestions of school closures got short shrift from Conwy’s lead member for education Councillor Julie Fallon who reminded him of the importance of the Welsh language and providing for rural communities in the county.

‘No brainer’

Councillor Fallon told the Abergele councillor his experience of “rationalising” Liverpool’s schools during the 1980s could not be compared to the education provision in rural North Wales. The debate about school closures broke out as councillors were discussing the likelihood of another below average local government settlement from the Welsh Government – that figure is set to be announced on December 20.

As well as cutting the education budget by 10%, councillors discussed yet another council-tax hike, extra service charges, and more cuts to service budgets.

Councillor Luckock, a former Liverpool City councillor, admitted he would vote for an increase in council tax in Conwy, rather than the council issuing a section 114 notice declaring itself bankrupt. “Charlie (leader Councillor McCoubrey) will know that I will vote for significant council tax increases, significant cuts and savings, and increases in charges, and I’m clear about that in my own mind,” he said.

“(But) I don’t think having a section 114 on your CV is something I would want.” Councillor Luckock was one of the “Liverpool 47” Labour councillors disqualified and surcharged from Liverpool council in the 1980s, after it set an illegal budget. He claimed Liverpool council had found itself in a difficult position because it didn’t make changes to its school system soon enough, which was why he supported closing schools on Conwy now.

“We are in a situation where the auditor general in 2021 reported to us and has said if primary schools have less than 100 pupils and secondaries have less than 700, they are not viable from a cost and attainment (attendance) perspective,” he said.

“We have 21 schools with under 100 pupils, and we have two secondaries under 700. If we had tackled this issue, these savings are not going to accrue immediately obviously, and as Amanda (Amanda Hughes, head finance officer) has said quite clearly, in future years we need to continue to make savings. Next year is not going to be any easier.

“It seems to me an absolute no brainer that we’ve got to tackle this issue, and we’ve got to use this budget to start that process.”

He added, “People argue back to me why we are not tackling these issues. The professional leadership and the political leadership argue back to me that it’s very complicated; it’s very difficult, and there will be much controversy in doing this: closing schools, amalgamating schools, rationalising our school estate, reorganising them, having bilingual schools, dual-stream schools.

“Obviously (I am) very respectful as I am of rural schools, networks of schools. Fully supportive of that. But my question is both to the professional leadership and political leadership. Why is it you are so resistant to tackling this issue? It has to be done in the present context. We cannot keep putting off these sorts of difficult decisions.”

But Cllr Fallon insisted pupil numbers are set to rise and that Conwy’s approach would be methodical. “In 2026 we are expecting to see the biggest increase (of pupils) we’ve seen since 2016 with over 1,050 additional learners,” she said.

“So I think we have to be incredibly careful when we just sit here saying ‘we will shut the schools… we will shut the schools’. It needs to be done in a way that is appropriate and planned. We need to make sure where those increases (in pupil numbers) are, so we are not setting ourselves up for failure and not closing certain schools and finding ourselves trying to build new ones in the coming years or increasing the cost further of home-to-school transport.”

She added, “It is very different to Liverpool. I know you bring that up repeatedly, Paul (Cllr Luckock). But we have to consider the Welsh language. It is incredibly important to us. This is not just schools that are below a hundred pupils. This is schools in communities that are well established and have been there for a long time and serve a very different group of people than perhaps an inner-city Liverpool school may do. We are continuingly looking at ways of addressing this.”

Shared headteachers

Cllr Fallon also explained that most school buildings were very old, and that they were no longer fit to accommodate as many pupils than at the time they were built. She also said 20% of Conwy schools already shared headteachers.

Cllr Luckock said: “There will be enormous pressure to resolve redundancy issues that will be there, and to say the present position as Julie (Cllr Fallon) has asserted is methodical is a nonsense. It is an absolute nonsense.”

Cllr Fallon denied that characterisation: “The majority of councillors within this chamber are governors at schools, and they are working incredibly hard to find solutions to this, and I think it is really unfair of you to say that schools are doing nothing and to use words like nonsense. It isn’t a nonsense.

“They are working incredibly hard. We have had a number of redundancies this last year. A lot of schools are just not replacing staff. Usually, over the years, they’ll put someone in temporarily, and then they will make them permanent. They are just not doing that now. Those fixed-term appointments are being discontinued, and that’s how they are making reductions.

“The staffing levels at schools are significantly less than they were. So you need to be really careful. This is a public meeting when you sit and use words like nonsense when we are talking about this work that schools are putting in. It is completely inappropriate. They are working very hard, and I think that’s incredibly unfair.”

Councillors backed the report on the local government budget and will await the indicative local government settlement, due to be announced by Welsh Government on December 20.


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Paul Luckock
Paul Luckock
6 months ago

You miss a key part of what I spoke of at the meeting and wrote in the Daily Post letters page……Conwy has 36 Primary Schools above the 10% Welsh Government surplus capacity target, a total of 1,485 surplus places, 6 out of 7 Secondary Schools are above the target, 1,320 surplus places, I am strong supporter of rural schools and Welsh Medium schools, dual streams and bilingual schools…..there are big issues in our town and village schools…….if taxpayers are willing to pay the cost so be it……

Rhufawn Jones
Rhufawn Jones
6 months ago

To be fair – Conwy Council have been very good at safeguarding small rural schools, more so than Gwynedd, and have been willing to try things like federalizing. The real issue of course is that pupil numbers are dwindling in rural communities because these villages are gradually turning into playgrounds and investment opportunities for wealthy people from England, making it very difficult for young local families to buy homes there. What is Conwy Council doing about this? And I will ask again – why spend 58 million pounds on a glorified greenhouse? There would be no budget deficit had that… Read more »

Paul Luckock
Paul Luckock
6 months ago
Reply to  Rhufawn Jones

Of course there would be a budget deficit, Coed Pella makes a modest and marginal contribution, we would have to have funded other office accommodation as other sites became unusable or unavailable for the longer term, Conwy’s birth rate as been decreasing since 1991, every year we lose Welsh Government AED government grant because the formula takes into account less children, over 500k less in 2023/24, we will lose more for 2024/25…..the facts lead to hard conclusions and difficult decisions…..it’s best to take decisions proactively rather than critical incidents and damage limitation….schools will fail financially and educationally…..let’s not forget the… Read more »

Mr Williams
Mr Williams
6 months ago
Reply to  Paul Luckock

And one of Conwy’s high schools has scaffolding up on the inside of the, very neglected, building, where children are learning, as Conwy won’t fund repairs to the ceiling, even though there is £10 million in reserves for schools. Please explain.

Paul Luckock
Paul Luckock
6 months ago
Reply to  Mr Williams

I am happy to investigate the school issue you raise if you give me the name, school balances were £10,294 million at the end of the financial year 2022/23, it is anticipated that £6.088 million will be used by schools to support their budgets this year. £4,206 is therefore available in school budgets for next year, some schools have an emergency loan from the LEA….

Iesu Grist
Iesu Grist
6 months ago
Reply to  Paul Luckock

You once said; ‘My personal responsibility for the erosion of Welsh culture and identity might be a little less than you think.’. Perhaps you should reflect on this and work EXTRA hard on ensuring Welsh medium schools are not shut.. or you’ll end up being Bessie Braddock incarnate, a stain on Welsh history and culture.

Paul Luckock
Paul Luckock
6 months ago
Reply to  Iesu Grist

I do not think Bessie Braddock was a fan of mine, local councillors will tell you I am a strong supporter of Welsh Heritage, Culture and Language, I support Welsh Medium, Dual Medium and Bilingual Schools, two of my present grandchildren attend Welsh Medium schools…..creative arrangements have and are continue to be made with sharing heads, hubs and networks of schools……..if taxpayers and electors want it to continue it will….

Mr Williams
Mr Williams
6 months ago
Reply to  Paul Luckock

Thank you for offering to investigate. I won’t publish the name on here due to EWC standards. However, as there are only 7 high schools in Conwy, it should be easy for you to find out. Conwy are well aware of the school’s problems.

Last edited 6 months ago by Mr Williams
Mr Williams
Mr Williams
6 months ago
Reply to  Rhufawn Jones

They also wasted 250k on consultancy fees for possibly selling their old Bodlondeb HQ. Meanwhile schools in Conwy are preparing for more redundancies as they no longer have enough money to pay their staff!

Paul Luckock
Paul Luckock
6 months ago
Reply to  Mr Williams

The 250k consultancy fees is to speed up the move of staff and council chamber from Bodlondeb to Coed Pella and ensure that Bodlondeb is effectively marketed we do not want it laying redundant as a building but off Conwy’s hands in two years time…..

A Coslett
A Coslett
6 months ago

I’m not a Conwy man myself but I’m intrigued by the realities of a former Liverpool City Councillor now sitting on Conwy Council, a very rural area in Cymru rather than city based Liverpool, England, taking decisions for a people whose language he doesn’t speak and who, even if they are monoglot,express their Welshness through the medium of English, are country not towns people whose culture and way,of life couldn’t be any more different from that of water stealing Liverpool! Schools are essential to the continuation of Iaith Cymraeg and it would be hoped that the continual assault upon our… Read more »

Paul Luckock
Paul Luckock
6 months ago
Reply to  A Coslett

I have never voted against Welsh Language, Heritage and Culture since being elected…….I moved to Wales 34 years ago because I had a young family and to support my mother in law who suffered the sudden death of her husband…….if I had stayed in Liverpool I may well have ended up in prison like some fiends who were active alongside me in the “poll tax” campaign…..I have voted each time for second home premiums……I did my postgraduate research on small schools in rural areas……I fully understand the reasons why some communities are politically successful in defending their small local schools… Read more »

Karen Jones
Karen Jones
6 months ago

You are a disgrace Paul and you should not be back in politics. Why don’t you do the honourable thing and step down? You aren’t liked, you aren’t respected and you are not wanted as our councillor.

NOT Grayham Jones
NOT Grayham Jones
6 months ago
Reply to  Karen Jones

Not sure that is correct he got 55% of the vote in last years election

Paul Luckock
Paul Luckock
6 months ago

Karen you wrote me a long letter which I fully respect, I will do the letter justice by providing a long answer this evening……you are absolutely within your democratic rights to encourage me to resign…….to challenge me and question me on anything I do as a councillor……at the end of the day my electorate will tell me in no uncertain terms whether they want me to continue…….I will accept their verdict humbly…….remember in nLiverpool I was surcharged 650k in 1980’s prices…….the people of Liverpool voluntarily paid off this surcharge at 50ps a week …..it did not cost me anything and… Read more »

NOT Grayham Jones
NOT Grayham Jones
6 months ago

It is good to see Mr Luckock coming on here to explain his thoughts and rational – this is a very rare thing by Cllrs who are being criticised for basically pointing out the facts of life. Cllr Fallon is standing up for her portfolio however maybe she needs a word with the Leader who also explained what bankruptcy for the Council will mean if they do not do something.

Linda Jones
Linda Jones
5 months ago

I suggest a council led campaign throughout Wales against the budget cuts imposed by Westminster right wing of both Labour and Tory politicians. At the moment Westminster are cutting budgets to the Senedd and councils and our politicians meekly ask ‘how much do we cut’. Our infrastructure is being destroyed. We fought the poll tax surely we can, after 13 years of tory/ lib dem and Starmers Labour destruction, fight back not quietly comply

Paul Luckock
Paul Luckock
5 months ago
Reply to  Linda Jones

Do not disagree but I struggle to see where the political leadership for such a campaign will come from, the feel in Liverpool in the 1980’s is very different to the feel in the north of Wales today. A remarkable level of stoical acceptance. My deep concern is that if we continue to make year on year budget cuts to School Budget cuts their will be a haphazard set of critical incidents where schools seek emergency loans and/or amalgamations just to provide a basic education. That is why I argue for a root and branch look at the whole school… Read more »

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